Last week, I was invited to fish on the North Esk, near Montrose in Scotland. The beat comprised about a mile and half of double bank fishing, running down from Morphie Dyke. As well as being a famous local landmark, Morphie Dyke is a major hurdle for migratory fish. Despite there being a fish pass running up the centre of the dam, a large number of the salmon still hold back, until the river levels rise, allowing them an easier passage over this obstacle.

Morphie Dyke

border esk salmon fishing

The fish pass in the centre of the Dyke

river esk sea trout

There had been a massive 12 flood, ten days before I arrived, but the river had all but dropped back to normal summer level. I was fishing the second half of the week and I arrived to find a river full of salmon, but apparently, they were proving hard to tempt! There had been about 15 caught during the first half of the week. The fish that were showing were mostly coloured resident fish, but there were a few clean fish that had likely come in on the back of the recent flood.

Note the leaping salmon! Took a few goes before I finally got one on my digital camera!

Wherever you looked, there seemed to be a salmon airborne somewhere in the river. I dont think Ive ever seen so many leaping salmon in any other UK river! The amazing thing is that the consensus from the other rods fishing was that theyd seen more fish in previous years! Now that would be something to see. (Ive got a video of the salmon jumping and Ill try and post it later in the week).

This beat is a 6 rod beat, divided into three sections and the rods rotate the beat, changing sections at lunchtime. This gives each rod roughly two to four pools to fish each half day, though the pools are being fished from both sides. This means that the fish are covered pretty thoroughly during the course of a day.

Both fly and spinner are permitted on this beat, but rods tend to fish the fly down first then follow on with a spinner. I had a 15 #10/11 double handed fly rod, a 9 #10 single handed rod and a spinning rod to cover all options. With the river being low, a full floating fly line or an intermediate was all that was required.

Because of the number of salmon and the fact that the river is generally quite shallow, there are rules as to the type of spinners that can be used. Flying €˜Cs are not allowed (they foul hook too many here) and multi-hook lures like rapalas, are only allowed one treble hook. Popular lures were tiny floating devon minnows, Blair spoons (silver/brass) and Abu tobys. (Black and gold zebra).

The devon minnows being used were interesting, in that they were home made, about 1 long, much more slender than commercially available lures and ruby red in colour. They were fished 12 to 18 off a three way swivel, with 6 piece of soft gardening wire bent to a €˜J shape, on the swivel also, to which lead strip was added. When the lead snagged, the garden wire straightened and only the lead strip was lost. These tiny devons had accounted for several salmon earlier in the week. The tiny devons are fished down and across, slowly bumping bottom on the way round.

The Blair spoon was also successful during the week, but interestingly, if it was going to catch in these low water conditions, it was generally in the first, if not the first few casts. One of the guys fishing the beat described the Blair spoon as €œshock and awe tactics. Fished straight across and wound back at pace, the lure suddenly comes into the salmons field of vision. Either it gets out of the way, or it takes it.

I favoured my faithful Rapalas, even if I needed to adapt the trebles. I couldnt get a knock on the jointed J11 and J13s, but the countdown CD9s came good. Strangely, none of the other rods used them and even Eric the ghillie, didnt seem to rate them. Different rivers, favour different lures I suppose?

The fly seemed to produce its fair share of salmon, to those that persisted with it. It is a much more subtle method than spinning, and provided the line isnt splashed onto the surface, it is a method that doesnt spook salmon. There was some superb streamy water throughout the beat that suited this approach. I used a pot bellied pig shrimp pattern, as I thought it was slightly different to the flies that the other rods were using. Its the first time Ive tried this pattern and I was impressed. I landed one small grilse on it, and lost two others. All the other patterns I tried got no interest.

All the fish I got to take a fly took right at the very tail of the pools. These fish were lying in only 18 of water. When I say the tail of the pool – they took just before the fly was touching the rapids.

Into one on a fly

A tiny cock grilse of 3lbs.

I finished up with two grilse on the bank, one on a fly and one of about 6lbs on a Rapala CD9, both of which were returned. I lost two others on the fly and two others on lures. I think the fish were taking short and that was the reason they dropped off. I also had a small sea trout.

It was great to fish a new stretch of the North Esk as it has been nearly two decades since I last fished this river. There were so many fish jumping, it was one of those beats that kept your interest going all the time, though I kept reminding myself that jumping salmon rarely take.

Slightly off topic, but the wildfowl flying overhead were amazing too. The geese left the Montrose basin daily to feed inland. At nightime the numbers returning was mind boggling. Apparently, someone has estimated there to be 67,000 pinkfeet geese in the area!

Getting back to the fishing, I think the final tally was just over 30 fish for the week, between 6 rods. The biggest was an 11 lber caught in the first half of the week by my host, Tim. Although no massive fish were landed, all in all, it was really good fun.